Happy Holidays, From Us to You

December 23, 2011 § 1 Comment

We are virtually signing off until the new year. We hope that your holiday season will be filled with love and joy. Merry Christmas!

Love, Pakou & Abigail


Abi’s Top Posts

December 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Continuing the trend of end-of-year listing that Pakou started Monday, here are the posts I most enjoyed writing this year.

Top 5 posts of 2011:

1. When Daredevil Christopher Wright’s The Longsuffering Song came out this fall, I listened to this short collection of songs repeatedly for days. The EP evoked very specific images for me, and both the words and the music seemed to speak clearly to what I was thinking and feeling at the time. As a result of writing about something I was so absorbed in and which so deeply resonated with me, my review of the EP has become my favorite piece to have written for anyone in the last year.

Plus, I’m just super proud of these guys! They’re worth the listen.

2. I was and still am completely intrigued by the thought of trying to distill truth from a single image.  I loved the unexpected revelations of all these photography projects in The Question of Identity. I feel like I learned some truth about myself too.

Photography by Judy Starkman

3.  For awhile, I felt like I’d lost a particular voicing and lightness, and How to Unwind was the start of getting it back. And who doesn’t need a good unwind? Six months later in the midst of winter, I continue to practice sprawling on a professional level. Also, the music is great in this post and the dog continues to be stinkin adorable.

4. This post was sort of a quiet little piece, but “The Hedgehog in the Fog” has become one of my favorite visual stories. And the dedication of the creator behind the animation is one which encourages and gives perspective on my work now.  So in case you missed it the first time, here’s a story of sweet friendship.

5. For me, the post A Bearable Life with its Kurt Vonnegut quote and short documentary is the reason why Pakou and I try to be creators and why we’ve started this blog to appreciate other creators.

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow.”

So do it! In any way, shape, or form.

Pakou’s Favorite Abi-Post: One thing about sharing a blog with another writer is that Abi and I don’t really discuss about the content of what we write. It’s usually a surprise to me what she decides to share about. My favorite Abi-post is the story and photos of Vivian Maier. Similar to Maier, I grew up in the city, nannied throughout school to pay for tuition, and when I’m not working I like to work on some sort of creative endeavor. Abi inspired me with sharing about Maier’s life.

Your thoughts? Here’s to another year of many more posts.

Pakou’s Top Posts

December 19, 2011 § 1 Comment

It’s that time of year where lists are in abundance – Christmas wish list, shopping list, and guests list. Before we virtually sign off for the year we would like to remind you of some of our favorite posts.

Here are my Top 5 posts of the year:

1. The For Those Whose Names Are Only Read  post was really fun to write. After laying in bed and just turning off my nightstand lamp, the idea came to post about the dedication page in books. Here is a little something about me, dear Readers, I keep a pen or pencil, posted notes, and scrap paper right next to my bed to write down last minute day thoughts or dreams that are so weird it ought to be written to be not forgotten.

Yes, I would recommend all of these books.

2. I absolutely love to thrift and find one-of-a-kind pieces to add to my wardrobe. One of my favorite finds this year was the blue white button skirt I found for $3.99. I have stretched my closet by the yards and dollars by just adding a little creativity.

3. Birthdays are great even if it’s not my birthday. This year I celebrated my 25th birthday in Gulu Uganda with my students who are blind making music with the monsoon that demanded to take the role of percussion. They sang, we sang, and as the lights flickered off and on, only those with sight gasped at the fear of darkness. After traveling in the rain, I was greeted with full house of friends, rooms lit by candlelight, and poetry to honor the day of my birth. This was a birthday to remember.

Good tea with good friends.

4. I never thought my first year of teaching would be filled with so much politics. In solidarity we will get all of those signatures and more.

5. I am so proud of this post about Mary Oliver and Sufjan. I wrote it one rainy night in my old apartment, my first apartment, my first place out in the real world as a young professional.

… the pounding of hail and now pouring rain echos in the old walls of my apartment and lightning continues to ignite the sky with Sufjan exclaiming the ultimate victory told in the Good Book.

Abi’s Favorite Pakou-Post: Of course Pakou’s dedication post teared me up and moved me. But since she already mentioned it, I will add that I most often return to her post featuring the beautiful footage of The Tree Ring’s lamp-covered houseshow and this song by K’naan, which continually inspires me with its message to be a giver. Thanks, Pakou, for gifting this song to us.

Dear Readers, which post is your favorite?


December 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

Guest post by Andrea Westaby.

Recently a friend and I were discussing our childhoods and some of the things we missed about them. The conversation prompted me not only to reminisce about the things that I had or experienced, but also to ponder some of the childhood joys that I wish I could still indulge in. I’m sure everyone has a few. Here are some of mine:

Book-It. In case you don’t know what Book-It is, let me enlighten you. Pizza Hut has a reading program for kids where they set reading goals, and when those goals are met each month, the happy student gets a free one-topping personal pan pizza. For me, who was already being called a “bookworm” by third grade or so, reading came easily – almost as easily as eating free pizza which I did not have to share with my brothers or sister. I only wish they had Book-It for adults.

The Root Beer Stand. I’m sure many of you have some childhood haunt, some “place” that you loved, and has become only a memory. One such place was the Root Beer Stand in my hometown. It had root beer floats, of course, and cheese curds, and fudge-dipped ice cream cones. It was a real, old-fashioned stand, where you had to order from – and eat – outside. There were no comfy booths, just a few rickety picnic tables, if that. At least that’s how I remember it. Unfortunately, the place was torn down to make room for – you guessed it – a parking lot.

Books with art. I can’t help but wish publishers and authors included illustrations in more books than they do. Unfortunately, book illustrations geared toward anyone over the age of 7 are usually met with a sneer, as if liking pictures in your books means that you can’t read properly. I couldn’t disagree more. I always loved to read, and I always liked the pictures. I would love to see more books – modern and classic – with accompanying art on some page other than the cover.

I’m sure I could go on for hours, just reminiscing. I’m equally sure that all who read this have some fond memories to indulge in as well. Some of my memories are more personal than root beer and free pizza, and that makes them all the more dear. Memories of familial closeness and good times with friends. Memories like my dad singing old country-western or folk songs to me or my brothers. Favorites were “The Green, Green Grass of Home” and “my” song, “Just Walk Away, Renee.”

But, come to think of it, I’m not sure that I want any of those things back. I don’t think a 6-inch pizza would be as filling to me now as it was when I was eight. A rickety root beer stand might not be as magical anymore. I would hate to have my memories spoiled by realizing that the cheese curds I thought were the best in the world were really actually just plain old cheese curds all along. With the possible exceptions of illustrations in books and hearing my dad sing, I think I can be content to leave the past where it is – in a beautifully-wrapped, somewhat mysterious cloud of memories and dreams that comfort and assure me in the quiet moments of life.

Mirror to Chalkboard Wall Hanging

December 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

The walls of my dining room are no longer bare. Multiple trips to the hardware store and thrift store have inspired me again to turn a vintage looking mirror into a chalkboard.

1. Cover the mirror with newspaper so that the mirror frame can be painted. I choose white but you could choose any color. It might be easier to take the backing off the frame and remove the glass mirror. Let the frame dry overnight.

The old frame was a rustic black color.

2. Next, paint the mirror with chalkboard paint. A 11 ounce can of paint is less than $10 at the hardware store. Let the mirror sit overnight to dry.

The black paint was still wet when it captured the wispy clouds.

3. Then put the mirror and backing on to the frame. A finished chalkboard wall hanging to make your space a little more unique or you can give it away as a gift.

Finally, the west wall of the dining room has some character.

 This past weekend I wrote a sweet note to welcome some friends.

Guests are an adornment to the home.

Are you making any Christmas gifts this year? If so, what are you making?

Lo, How the Carols are Overdone

December 12, 2011 § 3 Comments

By mid-December, even your favorite carol feels tired and drab – the silver bells less clear, the drummer boy a little slower. I’m picky about Christmas music as it is. I don’t like the bouncy jingles, sleigh bell effects, or pop star holiday albums. My associations with the holiday season are about the darkness of the evening against lit candles or a nearby fireplace, the warmth against the cold. As such, my list of seasonal music doesn’t usually include traditional carols.

But every now and then a musician’s version will capture my attention, reminding me not of the musician’s showcased voice, but the starry evenings they sing of, the moments of quiet reflection. And I can enjoy a new variation of an old melody. Here are four such renditions of traditional carols.

1. True to form, The Civil Wars take on minor and melancholy in this beautiful cover of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”

2. The lesser-known carols always interest me (helped by their infrequency on the radio – you don’t hear Rihanna singing “Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella”). I like the jam feel of Megafaun’s “I Saw Three Ships,” the harmonica and banjo sound of  southern porches matching the gossipy nature of the song.

3. In the wrong hands, “Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming,” another lesser-known carol, could be in danger of simply plodding along, but Feist’s creativity adds to the piece (is there anything she can’t make beautiful?).

4. “Silent Night” has suffered from so many covers, but Priscilla Ahn manages to give it a completely fresh take. With her layered harmonies, I sense the calm, peace, and silence of the night.

Hopefully these carols don’t add to the noise of the season, but let you hear something new.

For Those Whose Names Are Only Read

December 9, 2011 § 7 Comments

One of my favorite pages to read in a book is the dedication page. This page is so important because the names listed on this page are the ones that motivated, supported, encouraged, and shaped the author’s voice. It’s only the author’s voice that as readers we often hear, but what about the ones that helped shaped that voice?

In thinking about those who have shaped me, I wanted to share some of my favorite author dedications from my bookshelf.

1. Amy Sedaris (sister of Paul Sedaris) is so funny, so funny. Her hospitality book I Like You’s dedication page is complete with a real cute picture.

Dedicated to…

Mom, Dad, Lisa, David, Gretchen, Tiffany, Paul, Aunt Joyce, Madelyn Rose, Paul Dinello, and Mr. Mushroom.

Photo from Sedaris's dedication page.

2.  Elle Van Lieshout and Erik Van Os wrote an adorable picture book, Lovey and Dovey, about two characters who have stolen each other’s hearts. Their dedication is as warm as this story.

Our one-hundredth book for none other than our parents.

3. I just started reading The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I read her dedication page and realized how personal, intimate nicknames are between people.

For Alberto and Octavio, whom I call by other names.

4. The first author reading I ever went to was by Kao Kalia Yang, who wrote The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir. Her dedication reminded me much of my own dedication to my own grandmother who helped me find a voice when I wrote my thesis.

For my grandmother, Youa Lee, who never learned how to write.

To my baby brother, Maxwell Hwm Yang, who will read the things she never wrote.

5. Kate DiCamillo is one author who I would like to sit and have a long, lingering breakfast with in my home. The story of the little mice in The Tale of Despereaux is beautiful, inspiring, and moving.

For Luke, who asked for the story of an unlikely hero.

Yes, I would recommend all of these books.

I am dedicating this post to Abi who has helped me find my voice as a writer on this blog.

For Abi, who is my truest friend and kindred spirit.

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